The planning process for Vancouver’s Marpole district has sparked a community backlash.
It has left Wendy Cosby feeling that residents like her were taken for a ride by city hall.
“I think we were totally blind-sided,” Cosby told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
For about a year and a half, Cosby attended public events organized by city staff in line with the preparation of a community plan.
Like other areas of the city, the South Vancouver neighbourhood is growing. Demand for new development is on the rise.
The city has two estimates of how large Marpole will grow in the next three decades. From a 2011 dwelling count of 10,660 homes, one calculation projects a 50-percent increase, to 15,480 units by 2041. A second one almost doubles the current number, to 20,860.
Knowing that change is around the corner, Cosby wanted a say in the 30-year plan. She went to a bunch of workshops and on walking tours, where residents told city staff what they wanted for the community.
Because more people are coming to the neighbourhood, they talked about things like improving traffic safety on major thoroughfares. They requested improvements to schools and parks. For her part, Cosby was interested in community gardens.
When city staff held a series of open houses last June, she expected that these would somehow reflect what people wished.
“But surprise, surprise, not at all,” Cosby said. “A lot of things we discussed were not even on the boards.”
What city hall came back with, according to her, was basically a plan to rezone the community.
It’s not that residents don’t want more neighbours, Cosby noted. Marpole is already seeing a lot of growth, even without this community plan, she pointed out. For example, as many as five high-rise developments around the Canada Line’s Marine Drive station at the southern end of the Cambie Street corridor are either under construction or in various stages of planning.
Cosby said that Marpole residents also support more density along major transportation routes like Oak and Granville streets.
What city staff presented was beyond what Marpole residents expected.
According to Cosby, more than 50 percent of single-family properties will be rezoned so more homes can be packed into new developments. These include duplexes, townhomes, and other multi-unit residences as big as 12-storey apartment towers.
“Nobody mentioned that they were going to touch the majority of single-family homes, like in the heart of Marpole,” Cosby said. “It was shocking.”
On August 18, Cosby and hundreds of Marpole residents turned out to protest the planned mass rezoning. A member of the ruling Vision Vancouver caucus at city hall dismissed the outcry.
“The objections that we’re seeing, they’re actually based on quite incorrect information,” Coun. Kerry Jang told the Straight by phone.
According to Jang, only 17 percent of single-family properties are up for rezoning. He added that all of these are located along transit routes, making for smart growth.
The two-term councillor also said that no high-rises are contemplated in the plan. “The whole notion that it’s all going to turn overnight into a new West End or Yaletown is just patently false,” Jang stated.
According to staff presentations at the June open houses, the proposed community plan aims to provide more opportunities for “affordable home ownership”. This will be done by encouraging additional ground-oriented housing like stacked townhomes and row houses, as well as new apartment complexes.
Marpole resident Fiona Chen owns a single-family home. She’s worried about an increase in her property taxes.
Chen told the Straight in a phone interview that she knows of residents in other parts of the city who are now paying more in taxes because their neighbourhoods were reclassified for denser development in the future.
Staff will report to council in the fall about progress in drafting community plans for Marpole, as well as for the West End, Grandview-Woodland, and the Downtown Eastside.